Something has been bugging me about the CentOS absorption by Red Hat

I am obviously not a lawyer, and I’ve not consulted one. Feel free to point out my mistakes, and note that this is not legal advice. You need to speak to a lawyer on that, I am just guessing.

The language on here is pretty clear as to what Red Hat owns. I have no problem with their ownership of it. Nor do I have a problem with them imposing their particular concept of ownership.

Its the implications of their statements that I find interesting.

First, they own CentOS. The word mark (e.g. “CentOS”) and all the graphical bits.

Second, they have the right to decide what is, and is not, CentOS. This is where it gets interesting. I’ll explain.

CentOS is something which is, quoting them exactly here (cut and paste from the site) “an official CentOS release (?Official? packages, builds and releases are those which have been approved for the CentOS Project?s release by the CentOS Project)”, which they further clarify in the section below as

You may use the CentOS Marks in connection with your noncommercial redistribution of (1) bit-for-bit identical copies of official CentOS releases, and (2) unmodified copies of official CentOS source packages.

The negation of this is that you likely may not use the CentOS Marks in conjunction with your noncommercial redistribution of of non-bit-for-bit identical copies of official CentOS releases, e.g. modified packages, and (2) modified copies of official CentOS source packages.

Not a problem, right? And its their choice as to what is called CentOS. I have no problem with this.

Its the side effect if you decide to modify one single bit from *any* package in the distribution to support something you need, and then redistribute.

You can’t call that CentOS any more. Its not. That one bit difference, could, er … lead to confusion.

Somehow.

I won’t get into that, lawyer spend vast sums of clients monies to define and extract damages for things like this. Ask them about this.

What this does mean is that if you change that bit, you can do that (GPL), but you have to remove all the trademarks and word marks owned by Red Hat.

Think about that a second. You effectively have to do what CentOS did themselves to the original RHEL distros.

Its amusing how history rhymes with itself from time to time.

Well, there’s more than just that. You see, there’s this little clause:

Use of the CentOS Marks in connection with commercial redistribution of CentOS software (Commercial redistribution includes, by way of example but is not limited to, redistribution in connection with any commercial business activities or revenue-generating business activities.) , regardless of whether the CentOS software is unmodified, except as may be permitted above.

That is, unless I am reading this wrong, you now can’t ship CentOS for business purposes. Even if you remove the word marks and other trademarks. That’s where RHEL comes in.

This is obviously a shot across the Oracle unbreakable linux bow. They started with CentOS and worked from there.

But the other aspect that bugs me is what if you make a change to defaults in a package to bring in features you need. You have to erase all the word marks lest you create confusion. Or if you use an updated driver, so that the distro is no longer bit for bit compatible. Again, that confusion.

I won’t even touch the grey area of customer configuration, which, of course alters the installed bit-for-bit package distribution. I don’t want to waste time with this.

If you think about this long enough, you realize, its Red Hat’s choice to do these things. Its our choice whether or not we want to accept these conditions, or make changes to get to where we need.

The danger of any corporate controlled open source product is exactly this. They will eventually devolve into a scenario where they seek to impose something specific, in order to exert better control over revenue. There is nothing wrong with this. This is their right.

But one of the wonderful things about open and free markets is that we have a choice.

We are looking at Ubuntu/Debian and a few others to move over to. Most customers don’t care, and the ones who do understand the need to replace packages in RHEL.

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